Home > People > Authenticity Backlash: Are You Grumpy? Me, too.

Authenticity Backlash: Are You Grumpy? Me, too.

Feeling grumpy? Me, too, and my informal research indicates that we are not alone. Something has gone awry in the Twitterverse.  No, I am not referring to the Twitpocalypse. Rather than ignore this creeping feeling, let’s discuss it.


Recently several Twitter events left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Many others are also not their usual easy-going selves. Flaring tempers, personalized attacks and a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality have crept into that I once deemed a safe place to mull ideas, discuss conflicting points of view and be my quirky, eccentric self without expecting personal attacks. Others have attempted to explain the recent increase of snarky attacks on astrology. I wish it were that simple to explain, but I don’t think we can blame it on the stars.

My anecdotal evidence:

  • A friend mentioned that the recent negative vibes on Twitter were contagious, causing her to feel under attack. Several others chimed in and readily agreed. Typically positive folks, all rattled by the increasing frequency of their tweets being misunderstood and resulting in extreme reactions.

  • Another friend with a large Twitter following remarked that more frequent negative interaction caused him to limit his level of engagement, frequency and transparency. He is considering abandoning Twitter completely.

  • Several friends and followers suggested that I monitor my outgoing tweets more carefully to avoid my words being taken out of context and sending an unintended message. (Huh? I thought I define my boundaries in this place!)

I think this is authenticity backlash, or the result of a semi-public sphere going mainstream. Now that Twitter has attracted a larger audience, there is a sense that Big Brother has entered the room, and he is not going away anytime soon. Big Brother has many of us on edge, questioning and defending Twitter (and ourselves). Corporations and celebrities are using and misusing Twitter and then publicizing its flaws. Trolls are multiplying beyond Twitter’s ability to quash them, and they are amping up their efforts to incite negative reactions. With so many people looking for chinks in the armor, should we be surprised that they have found them? It is only logical that increased scrutiny makes authenticity more difficult, but I am not ready to throw in the towel.

Online authenticity is a new phenomenon, and we are just now exploring it’s complexities. Each of us has the option to self-censor, to protect our reputations and public identities. Personally I am unwilling to spend my time honing my tweets to ensure that they are morsels of perfection. I propose that we accept the inevitable trade-off that online authenticity demands. Online communication is a medium that lends itself to misunderstandings, and if you increase the size of the network, the rate of misunderstandings is likely to increase.

Let’s take responsibility and remind ourselves that many of us opt-in to Twitter to be ourselves and to interact with others eager to do the same. This only works if we agree to follow a simple rules: debate without personalizing, respect others’ personal boundaries, don’t take yourself or others too seriously, own up to screw ups, etc…basic golden rules, right? The kicker is to also accept that each of us will break these rules from time to time, because we are, after all, human. Authenticity requires acknowledging human imperfections including crappy moods, hot tempers, dropping F-bombs, drunk tweets, occasional stupidity, the list goes on…

Do you really want to hold a grudge, seek revenge and remain grumpy or recognize that growing pains are an inevitable part of Twitter (and each of us) growing up? Let’s admit, it is getting crowded in here, but there is still plenty of room for each of us. It’s okay to be grumpy, I was when I started writing, but I feel better already. The note in the movie, Juno, said it best: If you’re still in, I am in.

I will end this as I end and begin most conversations, with a question: Are you in?

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  1. Judi C
    June 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Serendipity: A friend suggested I read a book that lends insight into this situation. A couple of thoughts about being of that mind while reading your post:For some time, Twitter was in the league of the innovators: people that adopt technology early and often for the pleasure of exploring. These people often have respect for others of like minds and similar curiosities.In marketing-speak (of which I’m not fluent), the next group to adopt and use Twitter were early adopters: less technology-oriented, more about understanding and appreciating the benefits. This is perhaps more about intuition and beliefs. Again, no reason to be disrespectful, and a lot of common benefit being explored and shared.Now that Twitter has “gained celebrity,” the (early?) majority is here with all of their expectations and demands. This is a big and diverse group.I’m not so sure it’s authenticity as much as it is diversity and its unintended consequence: varying levels of understanding and respect for others. Not everyone is used to listening first and reacting second.

  2. Liza Sperling
    June 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Judi, Excellent points. I am not sure authenticity is the right word either. I have been rehashing the thoughts and wanted more input, exactly like the insight you added. I hope others will also chime in. What is the name of the book your friend suggested?Thank you for your feedback,LizaSent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  3. Duncan ALney
    June 14, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    When we spend as much time as we do on these social platforms, its natural that our moods, our context are going to influence our voice, our tonality and so on. We’ve got to take the good with the bad. It becomes a bit more complex with corporate voices of course. I’ve noticed a lot of social anxiety around me. People questioning their approach and so on. Life, in my opinion, is lived best with balance. Regarding the authenticity. I think that a bit of measure is required because of the permanence of the medium. Flaring up at a coffee shop is a lot less recallable than say flaring up on twitter. Of course passion is always welcome as long social etiquette is maintained. I’ve no room for personal attacks or anything malicious – but passion fueled outburst regarding something important is fine. Thats spontaneity. I’m with you – I dont plan to overly plan my online participation.Thanks for the great post.Duncan

  4. paulfountaine
    June 14, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    I agree with your thoughts. In a word, too many humorless folks, way too much sensitivity – time for all to relax, disagree if you must, and expand your sense of humor. Humor also begets understanding.

  5. Scott
    June 14, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Yes Liza “I’m in” …I agree that we have got to stop taking ourselves too seriously…there will always be those that are struggling with life so much that their only means of maintaining a diminishing identity is to seek to diminish or damage the identity of others. This is no big deal it is ‘what is’

  6. @KSL
    June 15, 2009 at 12:26 am

    I like authenticity; as in, you’re choosing to remain authentic to who you really are? kudos to you. There are plenty of people who think all this “social media” and “interent” stuff is diminishing our face-to-face inter personal skills. And that, the negative drama folks, will use these mediums to create hype for themselves and general yuckiness. The way I see it, those folks already do behave that way at work or other group settings and there, we have to deal with it the best we can. In this medium, if you don’t like someone’s style or content you can simply stop following them – how easy is that? No confrontation, message delivered.Duncan mentioned a flare up at the coffee shop having a lesser consequence to flaring up on Twitter – that makes me wonder if it should. I mean I think transparency is good, in both directions. People who will judge you will show themselves as “judgers” and people who are benevolent will show themselves as such. At least here you know what you’re dealing with, no body language or intonation to confuse things. What’s most interesting to me and least talked about is the fact that because these other visual and audio cues are missing we all project ourselves onto the messages we are reading. So, if you’re in a bad mood, you might read “wow …what a day…!” as a negative defeated exclamation and ask “what’s wrong.” If your feeling exuberant you might read success and optimism into the message and say “good for you.” If your smart you’ll be aware of your own natural tendency to project your mood onto a message and mitigate those tendencies as appropriate.I choose to believe that being connected and transparent through the new mediums will evolve us into individuals with higher natural level of integrity and character. I see it already in the millennials. They have fewer secrets and don’t try to mold themselves to others as much as seek out opportunities to be with like-minded people. I think that’s great. We can all be appreciated for who and what we are by someone.I’m all for a more responsible, existential, social media experience – just be your best you.

  7. Jac Star
    June 15, 2009 at 12:35 am

    I feel for you and the people that are trying to be authentic, only to have it thrown back in their face and have authenticity and ethics questioned. My husband has been part of that malaise in the last few days:http://dannybrown.me/2009/06/11/the-more-we-connect-the-more-we-lose-touch/He's probably one of the most authentic people I know and yet he still gets questioned.Twitter does seem to be breeding a lot more trolls. It’s why I have no interest in the service, despite the good I know it can do. To these small-minded people, I say this: Most of the time you couldn’t be half as authentic as these you attack. Maybe that’s your real problem – jealousy?Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  8. Liza Sperling
    June 17, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Great honest response to my post. I think you make a valid point. Jealousy is part of the malaise for anyone who is seeking followers, attention, whatever, but I think there are other issues at play. It may simply be a really crappy hobby for some. We all know people who are like this in the real world, & now that Twitter is filled with all types, they, too have emerged. The serial bullies who find it even easier to attack online than in the real world. I am working on another post, that is positive, not grumpy. Please do let me know your thoughts and keep reading! I use this as a springboard to start a conversation and get to know new people, so you are a great example of what happens when you through your thoughts out there. Off to check out your link – thanks:)

  9. Garry Tan
    June 18, 2009 at 5:16 pm
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